Robert Hohenstein

*Editor’s Note: CC Biz Buzz is a monthly column series that features insightful commentary from a member of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business faculty.

If I were to ask 100 individuals to define “marketing” I’d probably get 100 different answers. The challenge is that marketing has become a synonym for a wide variety of words – advertising, sales and direct mail among others. Everyone, it seems, attaches the moniker “marketer” to their resume, role description and name tag. I am certain the word is often evoked many times at social events. The individual selling online advertising identifies as a marketer. What the marketer is indeed selling are the tools necessary to strategically and tactically plan and execute a successful marketing plan.

Advertising is not marketing. The coupon book hanging from your front door is not marketing. Billboards along I-70 are not marketing. These are tools used in the planning and processes of marketing. These are tools that the marketer can utilize to create awareness of the firm’s product and educate its prospective customers about the product. These tools can assist in moving an individual or business to consider a purchase and becoming a loyal customer.

What are the tools that the marketer has as the firm creates its marketing plan? Let’s begin with the 4 Ps: product, pricing, place and promotion.

There is a product which is a good or a service that is sold to customers or other businesses. Customers buy a product to meet a need. A business needs to choose the function, appearance and style most likely to ensure product appeal to the target market and allow it to stand out from its competition.

There is pricing, a process of fixing the value that a manufacturer or provider will receive in the exchange of its services and goods.

Place outlines how and where a company will sell its products and services in an attempt to gain market share and consumer purchases.

Promotion ties back to the firm’s marketing communication plan. The firm not only must create first-class value for the customer and provide meaningful customer satisfaction, it must also communicate what the value is and what satisfaction the consumer will enjoy.

The firm must also use marketing communications channels to build positive relationships with its customers and develop methods by which it can harvest valuable and actionable customer feedback.

The messaging must be clear, consistent, compelling and relevant. The message content must be crafted to positively impact the firm’s target audience. This marketing communication plan must be fully integrated across all five channels available to the firm.

What are the five components through which the firm’s message is sent?

Advertising, which is any paid form of a non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor. Examples are broadcast, print, online, mobile and outdoor. This communication channel is the one we as consumers are touched by hundreds and hundreds of times each day. The marketer’s challenge is how best to break through all the ad “clutter” the consumer is exposed to.

Public relations focuses on building good relations with the company’s various publics. Publics such as community institutions, financial organizations, governmental entities, the media, citizen-action groups, the general public and the firm’s internal constituencies.

Personal selling is the interpersonal arm of the firm’s communication. Personal selling is a personal presentation by the firm’s sales force for the purpose of making sales and building customer relationships. Robert Louis Stevenson once noted, “Everyone lives by selling something.” COVID-19 has forced many changes in personal selling. Travel to meet with a prospective client has been restricted; many trade shows and conventions have been cancelled. More personal selling occurs now via Zoom, Skype and FaceTime.

Sales promotion’s mission is to provide short-term incentives to encourage the purchase or sale of a product or service. Tactics such as discounting, couponing, online flash sales, free gifts with purchase and free shipping help firms generate immediate revenue, reduce aging inventory and provide an opportunity for the firm to cross-sell and up-sell the firm’s other products. On a negative perspective, sales promotions can limit the firm’s revenue opportunities if sales volume does not occur, may alienate customers, and often hidden costs become a factor.

Direct and digital marketing involves engaging directly with carefully targeted individual consumers and customer communities to both obtain an immediate response and build lasting customer relationships. The explosive developments in communications technology and changes in marketer and customer communication strategies have had a dramatic impact on marketing communications. Digital direct marketing uses email, websites and mobile services in the same way that direct marketing in the physical world uses the postal service.

Marketing requires focus, discipline, and due diligence especially as technology pushes the boundaries in terms of what a marketer can accomplish. As Douglas Warner III, the former CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. famously said, “It’s important to remember your competitor is only one mouse click away.”

Robert Hohenstein is an adjunct instructor at the Robert W. Plaster School of Business at Columbia College and teaches on the college’s main campus in Columbia. He has a lifetime of marketing experience, from serving as a vice president of marketing with Six Flags Entertainment Corporation and Paramount Parks, Inc., to president and chief executive officer of Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, Inc. His experience includes creation and development of marketing strategies and tactics targeting the general and Hispanic markets.